and just like that

The Triumphant Rise of … Charlotte?

Photo: HBO

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this will not be a straight-up And Just Like That … pile on. Make no mistake: I find the Sex and the City reboot as unspectacular as pretty much everyone else, but enough about that. While my longtime devotion to the SATC universe compels me to watch AJLT, my frustration with it has me scuttling back to the original series for perspective, which has yielded a startling revelation: How have I not realized until now how wonderful Charlotte is?

To be clear, I am not a Charlotte. Like many SATC viewers, I originally saw Charlotte York as a cartoonish priss and the ideological foil to the proudly libidinous, rules-averse Samantha Jones — the brackets around the show’s more “realistic” core of Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbes. And while I share Charlotte’s Wasp background and will admit to having owned more than one Madame Alexander doll in my lifetime, unlike her, I regard as suspect anything tied to the word tradition — too often code for “don’t think.” And yet it’s Charlotte’s conservatism that makes it so intriguing to discover, upon rewatching SATC, that she was actually pretty damn progressive for a Park Avenue princess.

Consider that while Charlotte may swear by The Rules, she essentially proposed to both of her husbands. Also, note that in the season four episode “Time and Punishment,” in which Charlotte, now married to Trey, tells the girls that she’s quitting her art gallery job, she’s sufficiently versed in feminism to know that the women’s movement should support any woman’s freely made life choice — hence her Miranda-directed “I choose my choice!” telephone tantrum a few scenes later. Further into the season, when faced with fertility problems, Charlotte is wholly committed to adopting a child from China, her racist mother-in-law be damned, and begins learning Chinese. And it’s Charlotte who goes after Samantha in season three’s “No Ifs, Ands, or Butts” for speaking in “Black talk” (Samantha’s words) and in season six’s “Splat!” for using the term “maid.”

Of course, some of my newfound Charlotte evangelism reflects the fact that I’m at a different stage in my life than I was when I first watched SATC, which is why I find AJLT so depressing: Can people who are just a bit older than I am really not have their shit together by now?

Fortunately, one of them does. The reboot finds Charlotte where the SATC movies left her: happily married with two kids. AJLT has her imperfectly but compassionately raising one child who’s nonbinary and another — a teenage daughter — who’s posting pictures of herself wearing less than her mother would like. Yes, I wish Charlotte would tell her lawyer husband, Harry, to schedule his own colonoscopies, but I long ago made my peace with the fact that the character lives for her family. To fill her days, she’s active at her kids’ school and serves on the Met’s board. (Although Carrie is observably wealthier than Charlotte, there’s no suggestion that Mrs. Big has done any volunteer work.)

Critically, given the SATC franchise’s focus on relationships among its core women, Charlotte remains the most exemplary friend. She addresses Miranda’s drinking problem, and in a move harking back to her stage-managing of Miranda’s mother’s funeral in the original series, Charlotte produces a spreadsheet for scheduling Carrie’s caregivers following her hip surgery. Conversely, the reboot’s Carrie and Miranda are breathtakingly self-absorbed, and I concede that it may be in part because they are so insufferable that Charlotte seems tremendous by comparison.

It’s true that Charlotte takes her share of missteps in AJLT — there are certainly more artful ways to go about fixing the white-person problem of having only white friends, and it wasn’t great when she mistook one Black woman for another. Meanwhile, as Carrie and Miranda take conspicuous pains to prove that they’re not racist (the camera lingers on Carrie’s toted-around copy of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth; Miranda ditheringly calls out a racial incident that isn’t), Charlotte unselfconsciously identifies the Black artists whose work decorates her new friend’s home. This is the same Charlotte who, a couple of episodes back, says this to Harry, who’s demanding an apology for her tennis conduct: “Women apologize to the whole world all day long for everything. Tennis is the one place that I don’t have to do that.” At this rate, by season’s end she’ll be telling him to schedule his own fucking colonoscopies.

The Triumphant Rise of … Charlotte?